Thursday, April 2, 2009

Sanibel's Tiny Snowy Plovers

Late this afternoon, I went to the beach on the east end of the island. From Periwinkle Way, I turned onto Buttonwood Lane. Going toward the beach, at the end of the street, there is a resident access. This is the place where we started our turtle walk last year, but we went left toward the Light House, that's about a half mile away. Today I went to the right, which is west. I picked that direction because last year, I saw several areas that had been roped off and marked to protect the Snowy Plover nests. These birds are listed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as threatened, due to loss of habitat. I know it is the nesting season now, usually around the end of March until mid-July, and I wanted to see if there were any nests yet.

I walked about a half mile, before I saw a large area that was roped off and had signs up to let people know it was a Snowy Plover nesting area. I think I could see another area down a little further, and I'm sure there are more.

These tiny birds are hardly noticeable because they scurry around so fast, and their coloring blends in with the sand and shells so well. I took a picture of birds that I thought were female Snowy Plovers. When I was there, the coloring, markings and size, all looked right. But, now that I look at the photo, it's such poor quality that I just can't see them good enough to say for certain. Some days, I need a better camera. :-(

The Snowy Plover can be found other places in the world, but prefers beaches or bare ground, and is a year-round resident of the Gulf coast of Florida. This little bird can find plenty of food on the beach, such as insects, worms, and small crustaceans.

It's a small bird, weighing only 1 to 2 ounces, 6 to 7" long, with an aproximately 13" wing span. It's dark colored legs are moderately long, it's neck is short with dark patches on the sides that extend to the top of its chest. The back is pale tan, the rump is gray and the underparts are white. It has a thin black, pointed bill. Males and females look similar, with black patches on their neck, on the side of their head and across the forehead. During breeding season, the males black coloring is much more vibrant. The females markings are lighter color, and fade even more in winter. Young birds are also lighter in color.

The Snowy Plover makes a shallow nest in the sand near the dunes, laying 2 to 6 eggs, usually 3, over a period of 5 to 6 days. The eggs are buff color with black markings. Both male and female help incubate the eggs for around 26 days. The young leave the nest as soon as their down gets dry and are ready for flight when they are a month old.

The females can raise two broods a year, and sometimes three in places where the breeding season is long. She leaves her mate and the babies as soon as they hatch. She then will breed with a different male. The young are able to feed themselves, but can't keep themselves warm for the first couple of weeks, so Daddy Plover keeps them warm and protects them from predators.

The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) is involved in the Snowy Plover Project, and with the help of many volunteers, have been protecting nests on Sanibel with stakes and ropes, for several years. They also monitor nesting shorebirds, collecting data in order to promote better management of the nesting areas.

As I walked back toward the Buttonwood access, I saw something a bit unusual. I guess the rough water brought this in to shore and someone planted it on the beach. You just never know what you might see!

It wasn't until I was on my way back, that I started watching closely in all the yucky stuff the tide had brought in. I found the biggest Bubble shell I've ever seen, around an inch long.

Then I saw a really tiny paper fig.

A little further on, I found this top shell.

This is something we see here frequently. Before tourists leave, they usually sort through the shells they've collected through their stay. When they realize that the shells picked up at the beginning of their vacation, sure aren't as nice as they eventually found. So, they get bagged up and taken back out to the beach and dumped in a pile. Usually I see them right at the end of a beach access, to one side or the other. I just glanced down at this pile and saw a couple of really small, perfect shells that probably got here by accident.

This is where I left the beach at Buttonwood. If you look far, you can see the lighthouse.

This video shows the Sanibel Lighthouse at the end of the island and across the water, you can see the tall buildings on Ft Myers Beach. It was a nice sunny day, around 80 degrees, windy (which you can hear) and the water was also a warm 80 degrees.


Gayle said...

Wow, 80* weather! That's awesome! That is such a tiny little bird. I can't believe they nest right out in the open like that. It's surprising they have survived this long, and that predators haven't wiped them out. Thanks for the interesting information.

Terri Tiffany said...

I didn't realize you had a blog as your link didn't show on the comments so I went to my follower list and tried again. Great pictures and we saw those little birds and wondered what they were:) I will be back to see more!

Okiesheller said...

Love the little top shell and bubble shell! I don't recall ever having seen a bubble shell. As always, thanks for your wonderful blog, Tootie!

Snowbird said...

Love the Plovers. We had a couple of hatchlings last year--you know where--and raised them. They lived in a playpen with sand in it!

Love the shells too.

Betsy from Tennessee said...

That is so neat that they close the beach for the Snowy Plovers...

Another great post, Tootie.

Greg said...

now i know the name of those birds.. excellent!